Buy a Prison

[Image: Prisons for sale; photo by Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times].

The State of New York is hoping to sell its old prisons.

“One property, in the Hudson Valley, includes a 16-car garage, a piggery and hundreds of yards of lake frontage,” the New York Times explains. “Another offers 69 acres of waterfront land on the west shore of Staten Island, complete with a two-story gymnasium, a baseball diamond and an open-air pavilion.” Some of the sites actually sound amazing:

Among the facilities the team is considering selling are 23 state-owned residences set aside for prison superintendents. Some are quite lavish: one in Auburn, to be auctioned this summer, is an 8,850-square-foot brick mansion with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, an attached gazebo and a barn-size garage.

The article somewhat ironically suggests that “the ideal buyer” of one the prisons would be “someone who craves space to spread out.”

Despite the piece’s pessimistic tone—”You couldn’t make it into a hotel. You couldn’t make it into an apartment complex. You’re talking millions of dollars to renovate. Who’s going to do it?”—I can’t help but wonder if someone couldn’t buy one of these places anyway, admit that most of the complex will simply be left to ruin, consumed by weeds and filled with pigeons, but then transform some core part of it into a kind of architectural research center, its very setting the most intense spatial lesson of your time spent writing and studying there.

(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Buy a Tube Station, Buy an Archipelago, Buy a Map, Buy a Torpedo-Testing Facility, Buy a Fort, Buy a Church, Buy a Silk Mill).

10 thoughts on “Buy a Prison”

  1. A prison building would probably make an ascetic sort of retreat centre fairly easily.

    A good place for an archive company, too. Stacks for libraries.

    And of course, it'd be a great location for films, tv series, and so on.

  2. Presumably the prison pictured was closed because they realised that the wall did not need to be climbed over or tunnelled under – instead the inmates could just walk around it…… 😉

  3. The Villages at Staunton in Central VA is a good example of a prison turned into a multi_use development. The name is a bit dull and uninspired, but the project has generally been well done. I wish they had left the fences up, since I think they helped unify the whole complex, but I guess the marketing folks thought otherwise.

    The complex was designed at least in part by Thomas Blackburn who worked under Thomas Jefferson on the construction of the University of Virginia and its original purpose was as Western State Mental Hospital. In the 1970 it was converted to the Staunton Correctional Center which it it was until 2003 when it closed. It's really a nice place.

    Staunton also has another old mental hospital a short distance away, the DeJarnette Sanatorium that would be an amazing place and another asset to the community if it were repurposed, but efforts to preserve it haven't fared so well.

    There are several more institutional rehabs, mostly hospitals and mental hospitals, shown here which also mentions the Staunton "Villages" project

  4. In Boston – the Boston Police Headquarters on Berkely St. and St. James was turned into a Jury's Hotel (changed it's name last year) and the most shocking transformation was the Old Charles St. Jail was turned into the Liberty Hotel and is considered a desirable venue! The did do a great job – new high rise guest quarters. Adjacent to Mass. General Hospital.

  5. The old Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh was converted into a combined home of the juvenile and family sections of the Common Pleas Court.

    It's quite an impressive building visually… from the website:
    "The architecture is characterized by the classic symmetry of the Renaissance, with Romanesque details, including Syrian arches, Byzantine Capitals, late French Gothic dormer windows and French Renaissance roofs. Among the most impressive features of the courthouse and jail are the Courthouse tower, rising more than 229 feet; the solemn mass of the jail; the picturesque silhouettes of the roof lines, towers and turrets; the soaring arches and dignified columns; and the practical arrangements of windows, which provide an abundance of natural light."

  6. This is such an interesting concept and re-use of space. It's definitely doable though. I just stayed in a hostel in Kassel, Germany that just 7 months ago was a jail. It was a walk from the river and tram ride from the city center. Granted, we stayed in old cells and some were "decorated" but it was all quite functional.

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